The lonesome call of a loon has been likened to a yodel, laughter, or a cry. Once heard, you will never forget it. The loon’s legs are placed far back on its body making walking a chore, but in the water this magnificent bird paddles and dives with style and grace. When searching for small fish to eat, loons can dive 160 feet (49 m) or more and remain underwater for 40 seconds to a minute. (When pursued by an enemy, loons may remain under water for as long as three minutes.) They also eat crustaceans, snails, leeches, mollusks, frogs, insects, crayfish, and salamanders.
The male loon is larger than the female. The head of the loon is black and the body is black with white marks. The neck has a white band and the belly is white. The black beak is long and pointed. Unlike most birds, the bones of the loon are mostly solid, aiding in underwater activities. The loon was created for diving with a streamlined, submersible body. Loons are not ducks. Ducks paddle by moving one foot at a time while loons kick both feet simultaneously, propelling them quickly under water. They steer with their wings.
As for flight, takeoff isn’t easy and a loon needs a watery runway. While in the water, it raises itself by beating its wings for propulsion across the surface, taking 20 yards (18.4 m) or more to become airborne. Once airborne, it has an airspeed of 62 mph (99.2 km/hr).
Loons usually sleep on the water but sometimes swim to shore to nap. Nesting on islands or sheltered coves near the water, the loon’s nest is made up of grasses, twigs, and rushes. Some may build on muskrat houses. The nests are used year after year and it is believed that loons mate for life. The female lays one to four greenish-brown eggs with dark spots on them around the middle of May. Both parents incubate the eggs, which will hatch in about 29 days, and both raise the chicks.
From day one, the chicks learn to eat whole small fish and plants. The youngsters may ride on the parents’ backs but by 10 to 15 days old, they are skilled swimmers and divers. They learn to fly in about 12 weeks.
The range of the loon includes Iceland, Greenland, Canada, and the northern United States. They winter along the Atlantic coast as far south as Florida and along the West Coast from southern Alaska to Baja, California. The Texas coast along the Gulf of Mexico is also a winter haven for the loon.
Gaviiformes • Gaviidae
Weight: 9.2 pounds (4.2 kg)
Length: 31 inches (80 cm)
Wing Span: 51 inches (130 cm)
Life Span: 72 years
Special Design Feature: Loons can swim and dive with grace because of placement of their legs and webbed feet.
Did You Know? Loons need at least 20 yards (18.4 m) for takeoff in order to become airborne.